Triple the Achievement: Meet 3 Alumni Who Triple-Degreed in McK's Nursing Program

Everyone knows that nurses are dedicated, caring people who make a massive, positive, and crucial difference in our communities. Many nurses decide to further their education so they may have the opportunity to better serve their communities, advocate for patient safety, and illuminate a path forward for others who wish to follow in their footsteps. It’s no secret that our nursing students and alumni have excelled in the classroom and beyond. To celebrate National Nurses Week this year, we’re shining a spotlight on three alumni who chose to get not one, not two, but three degrees in nursing at McKendree University!

Paving the Way for Excellence:
Kendra Taylor BSN ’06, MSN ’14, DNP ‘21

Photo of Kendra Taylor BSN ’06, MSN ’14, DNP ‘21Dr. Kendra Taylor’s journey in McKendree’s nursing program began at home after she attained her associate nursing degree from Kaskaskia College. Her mother, a nurse, completed her BSN at McKendree and spoke highly of the program at the university, which was close to Kendra’s home of Salem, Illinois. Kendra wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a nurse herself, especially since she knew that it is a profession with endless possibilities steeped in a deep desire to help others.

“I finished the BSN program before the program was completely online, and the McKendree instructors would come to Kaskaskia College once a week to teach the BSN courses,” said Kendra.

During her time in the nursing program at McKendree, Kendra learned to believe in herself and know that anything is possible. Along the way, the nursing faculty members were supportive and encouraged her to complete her assignments on projects that she needed to implement at her work.

“It made the lessons more meaningful, helped me apply the information better, and was a win-win for everyone,” Kendra said.

Instead of stopping at just attaining her BSN at McKendree, Kendra decided to complete all three of her degrees at the university for one main reason - the faculty.

“The nursing faculty want to see you succeed not only in the nursing programs but also in your professions,” she said. “They support and encourage you 100%.”

Kendra has worked in the healthcare field since 1996 and worked her way to become the chief executive officer at Salem Township Hospital in Salem, Illinois. However, in 2021 she decided to return to McKendree to teach because she wanted an opportunity to support and give back to the students in the same way she had been supported. She now serves the university as an assistant professor of nursing and the Master of Health Administration program director. She plans on continuing to support McKendree’s students, add additional programs to meet the needs of the students, and continue growing the outstanding reputation the McKendree Nursing Division already has.

“If you want to achieve your personal and professional goals by continuing your education in a supported environment driven to help you succeed, then McKendree University is the place for you,” she said.

Advocating for Patient Health:
Debbi Waters BSN ’08, MSN ’10, DNP ’22

Photo of Debbi Waters BSN ’08, MSN ’10, DNP ’22A native of Plainfield, Illinois, Debbi Waters does not remember wanting to be anything other than a nurse.

“My Aunt Linda was a nurse; I always looked up to her and admired her, her clean white uniform, and the many stories of the ED,” she said. “What I love the most about the nursing profession is that the possibilities are endless. There are so many paths a nurse can take, and my career path as a nurse has been nothing short of amazing. I have enjoyed every minute of it.”

Debbi has been interested in not only nursing but also political science and becoming more active in advocating for policy change. Thanks to a chance encounter with McKendree’s Director of Nursing Admission and, as Debbi described her, “an amazing recruiter,” Kim Eichelberger, Debbi chose to attend McKendree.

“I liked the size of the school – it’s big enough to provide opportunity, but small enough to feel like a community,” Debbi said.

Debbi’s experience at McKendree was very meaningful; she developed new friendships with other nurses who shared a common goal of advancing their nursing education while elevating the profession of nursing. Her phenomenal professors encouraged her and cheered for her as she pushed herself to excel in all three degree programs. She also enjoyed the BSN program so much that she decided to continue on to the MSN program. She put that education to good use by taking on a new role as a chief nursing officer and slightly diverted to law school, where she obtained a law degree with a focus on health law. After traveling around the country for work, Debbi returned seven years later in 2020 to continue her education in McKendree’s DNP program.

“The programs I completed at McKendree helped me grow professionally by incorporating all aspects of the healthcare delivery system,” Debbi said. “However, my DNP experience stands out the most because of the support and encouragement that I received from my project chairs as I completed a project that was outside of the norm. They embraced the unknown and allowed me the flexibility to tackle a huge and meaningful health policy project.”

That project involved Debbi researching and publishing an article in Capitol Beat, a publication from the American Nurses Association (ANA), called “OSHA Reopens Comment Period on Occupational Exposure to COVID-19 through April 22.” In the article she focuses on the lack of personal protective equipment, otherwise known was PPE, for nurses during the pandemic and the solutions to tackle this issue in the future.

Debbi is currently the director of hospital medicine for BJC Medical Group. She plans to finish out her career in a leadership position and forever being an advocate for patients and the profession on nursing. She also encourages others to choose McKendree to obtain their nursing degrees because the nursing division is very supportive and will encourage and push you to strive for excellence.

“I hope to inspire other nurses to do two things: continue their education, and to be a relentless advocate for advancing the nursing profession and speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves,” she said.

Making a Positive Difference in Her Own Backyard:
Johnna Smith BSN ’14, MSN ’17, DNP ’23

Photo of Johnna Smith BSN ’14, MSN ’17, DNP ’23Johnna Smith enjoys helping take care of people at their most vulnerable time and making a positive difference in others’ lives every day at her job. As a nurse leader and the chief nursing officer at St. Joseph’s Hospital in her hometown of Murphysboro, Illinois, Johnna loves being able to help others grow and watch them become successful. While she isn’t at the bedside in her current role, she advocates and supports those at the bedside caring for her community. When she was looking at universities to get her degree, a colleague of hers mentioned McKendree University’s BSN program.

“During that period in my life, I wanted a traditional student route. At that time, McKendree’s program was blended, allowing for in-person and online courses throughout the program. McKendree offered this in the southern Illinois area and after speaking to other students in the program, I decided this university would be the choice for me!” Johnna said.

Johnna says that her experience seeking all of her degrees at McKendree has been a wonderful and supportive experience. She persevered through many challenges throughout the way, including the birth of her third child during her BSN program, the death of her mother during her MSN program, and acting as a nurse leader during the COVID-19 pandemic during her DNP program. She accredits her success to the faculty and her ability to develop relationships with her fellow classmates.

“Every instructor has been knowledgeable, responsive, and helpful. The faculty want you to be successful and challenge you to expand your knowledge base,” Johnna said. “There are so many takeaways I learned through each degree that have helped shape me into the nursing leader I am today. With each degree I have been able to apply what I was learning in my coursework to the role I was currently employed in. I have learned how to pause and take time to learn what the literature states about processes and help guide staff and leaders to utilize evidence-based practice in our decision-making rather than going with an idea that we don’t know will truly make a difference in our nursing practice.”

Ultimately, Johnna chose to attain her three degrees from McKendree because of the experience she had.

“The way each program was designed to build upon each class was instrumental in my decision to continue pursuing advanced degrees through McKendree,” she said. “I will forever be grateful to the faculty in the nursing division for the responsiveness, communication, support, and willingness to make me successful as a student. The faculty are right here in our community and accessible. I have mentored students from other programs and often the student is a number and not known by name. The instructors at McKendree know you by name and get to know your strengths and how to build you up!”

Johnna plans to continue being an advocate for the nurses on the frontline, especially since she has a passion for growing others in the profession of nursing and nursing leadership. She also plans to stay involved in different nursing organizations to bring that knowledge into her hospital organization and continue to grow the profession of nursing within her hospital system.

“If you are looking for a supportive, advanced nursing degree program that will help you learn and grow as a professional nurse, then choose McKendree,” Johnna said. “There will be a wealth of knowledge from faculty who will guide you through the classes and support you along the way.”

You, Too, Can Make a Difference in Your Community!

If you’re interested in entering the healthcare field and want to attain the knowledge and skillsets you’ll need all while learning from caring, knowledgeable faculty, choose McKendree University. Our nursing programs excel in providing students like these three amazing alumni with a well-rounded, high-quality educational experience to prepare nurses and nurse leaders to succeed in hospitals, clinics, nursing care facilities, and other centers and agencies throughout the nation. Learn more or apply today!